It is bad enough that scams exist; however, they are exponentially worse when they occur during a time of mourning. Unfortunately, there are several bereavement scams because scams are most effective when people are vulnerable. And when dealing with the recent loss of a loved one, most people are at their most vulnerable.
Over the years, scams have increased. In April of this year, the FBI released a statement warning people of scams that are explicitly targeting both those who have died as well as those who are grieving.
Though a variety of scams manifesting after the death of a loved one, they all start the same. Criminals, preying on seniors who are grieving, use the obituaries to choose their victims. Obituaries provide a surprising amount of information criminals use to set up a successful scam.
Obituaries include information about the deceased family, those that survived them, those they survived, maiden name if applicable, where they were from, and maybe even their home address. Additionally, obituaries share information about the time and location of the service and reception, which criminals also find helpful to know.
There are many ways that criminals scam seniors in mourning, though they can all be broken down into four main types. This article covers each of the four various scams as well as best practices on how best to avoid falling victim to a bereavement scam.
The bereavement scams listed here do not include funeral scams; those are explained in-depth in a different article. Though funeral and bereavement scams impact similar parties, they both warrant separate discussions because there are various methods and criminal groups involved in these crimes.
- Outstanding Debt
- Identity Theft
- Inheritance or Insurance
Outstanding Debt – Bills and Taxes
The most popular scam is the debt collector, from a person impersonating an agent from:
- A credit card company
- A collections agency
- The IRS
The scammer will tell you that you are liable for your loved one’s debts and that you are required to pay the debt off immediately. Because the scammer used the obituary, as well as other information they dug up on the internet, they have the personal data of the deceased; the scammer will come across sounding entirely legitimate. These criminals are professionals and know all the right things to say to you.
Scammers will often threaten you with legal action or fees if you don’t pay them now. Criminals posing as the IRS may even threaten to garnish your retirement income or Social Security, to get you to pay them on the spot. Often these criminals know just the right amount of pressure to use when talking to seniors to get your cooperation.
Some of the bigger scam groups will be set up and prepared for you to request a phone number and address and will readily provide you with it. This shared information does not make them a legitimate company, only a well prepared one.
What You Should Do: If you get a call of this nature, request the company name and call back number, often the caller will hang up without providing this information.
Also, if they opt to give you the information you requested, ask a friend or family member for assistance looking into the situation. If there is a lawyer or executor involved in the deceased final affairs, you can request their help in looking into the matter.
Identity theft has become a popular scam, one that has become so common that it isn’t even all that shocking to hear about anyone. Unfortunately, with every passing year, the number of victims of identity theft has grown, and tens of millions of dollars are stolen every year.
Targeting the deceased is one of the easiest identity theft scams around since there is no one checking their credit scores or reports, nor is any looking into fraud reports, and no one is keeping an eye out for new credit cards opened in their name.
Sometimes these criminals will call and request information on the deceased such as middle name or social security number. They often claim they are with a life insurance company, Medicare, Medicaid, or other related organization and are calling to verify information on the deceased to close out their accounts. Or, some will pay to get your loved one’s Social Security number.
Seniors are often targeted in these scams since most have well-established credit, including multiple accounts. And criminals can get the age of their victim from the obituary.
Once armed with the information they need, criminals may attempt to access active accounts to withdraw money or charge existing credit cards. But most open new accounts and use them until they are shut down for lack of payment.
What You Should Do: If in the event someone is calling to request personal information, refuse to provide it. Ask the caller for their call back information and, if provided, look into their claims before taking any action.
Inheritance or Insurance Scam
These two scams are very similar. The scammer will contact the loved one of the deceased and state that they are either named in the will or are the primary beneficiary to the deceased’s life insurance policy.
Two different scams use insurance or inheritance as their cover story.
The first one is looking for immediate payment. How this scam works is that you are contacted via phone, email, or letter stating you are the recipient of a certain amount of money; however, to receive the inheritance or benefits, you are required to pay a processing fee. Some of these scammers may even offer an expedited process for an additional cost.
The second scam starts the same as before, with you coming into a large sum of money. But the company just needs some personal information from you to verify who you are and to pay you via direct deposit. All you need to do is provide them with your bank account information. They may even offer the direct deposit method as a way to avoid processing fees as well as hasten the process.
What You Should Do: If you receive a letter, email, or phone call, contact a lawyer or research the company on your own before providing any information. The scammer may threaten that this is time sensitive in an attempt to pressure you, but that is more of a red flag than anything else.
These things take time, and no legitimate organizations would ever pressure someone to provide sensitive information over the phone.
The burglary scam is one of the oldest bereavement scams around and also the most detestable. Losing a loved one is one of the hardest things in life we have to face, but when you add burglary of the deceased’s home or the home of the one hosting the post-funeral reception, that is more than any one person should be forced to bear.
Criminals have several resources to locate the address of the deceased if it is not found in the obituary. Once they have obtained where the deceased lived, they only need to wait until the listed time of the funeral to break into the home. The same applies to the house hosting the reception.
An obituary essentially tells criminals the optimal time to break in when the house is empty. Plus, there is more than a fair chance, the neighbors will also be in attendance at the service, giving the thieves all the more privacy. And, the thieves know how much time they have to complete the job.
What You Should Do: The day of the funeral ask a friend to stay at the house during the hours of the funeral; usually, that is enough to deter a burglary from happening.
How to Prevent Scams
There are several ways to reduce the chances you or the deceased will fall victim of a breavement scam.
- Never give payment information over the phone
- Ask for the agent’s name, number, and company so you can call them back at a later time – Then take the time to research the company
- Limit personal information in obituaries. Don’t include:
- Date of death
- Mother’s maiden name
- To protect the deceased from identity theft, provide copies of the death certificate to:
- Credit Report Companies like Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion,
- The deceased’s bank, brokerage firm, credit card companies, and mortgage companies
- Discuss any communications you receive with the deceased’s lawyer or executor if one is available